Chair of John Lewis says government should make it easier to recruit HGV drivers

ITV News Business and Economics Editor Joel Hill has the details from the Chair of John Lewis on what the company has done to 'save Christmas'

The John Lewis Partnership reported its results for the first six months of its financial year.

It made a loss of £29 million, but that compares favourably with the £635 million loss it posted a year ago.

There are early signs of a revival, so much so that the chair, Sharon White, suggested there’s an outside chance that the bonus will be reinstated in the New Year.

“It’s stretching but not impossible,” Ms White told ITV News.

“It would be lovely to be in a place where our profits have recovered to such a degree that we reward our partners with a bonus.”

What could possibly go wrong? Christmas.

Retailers are limbering up for the busiest time of the year while simultaneously trying to manage a dire shortage of HGV drivers.

Last month, John Lewis increased basic pay for HGV drivers by more than £5,000 a year (to just over £50,000) and offered new recruits a £1,000 signing-on bonus

Ms White says the partnership now has enough drivers to supply its 365 Waitrose and John Lewis shops but other retailers have much bigger networks and problems persist.

The Co-operative group operates 2,500 food shops. It too reported a loss on Thursday and said it is struggling to recruit drivers.

Joel Hills explains what the concerns are at John Lewis - and what's being done to ease worry

The chief executive, Steve Murrells, said the shortage is making it hard to restock the shelves and is pushing up prices for consumers. He called on the government to intervene.

A host of business groups are putting pressure on the government to issue temporary work visas to avoid disruption in the run-up to Christmas time.

On Thursday, John Lewis added its voice to the choir.

“It would certainly be helpful but we are not depending on (visas),” said Ms White.

“We have acted really hard and really fast to make sure that we can save Christmas.

"We are hiring more space in ship freight to ensure that Christmas baubles and Christmas trees and all those wonderful gifts arrive early.”

John Lewis boss Sharon White: 'It would certainly be helpful, but we are not depending on (visas for foreign lorry drivers)'

The government is determined to resist calls to make it easier to recruit from abroad but it has set up a task force to look at the labour shortages companies are reporting.

Michael Gove was leading it but, in the reshuffle on Wednesday, responsibility has passed to the former Brexit Secretary, Stephen Barclay.

On Thursday night, a government spokesperson told ITV News: “We recognise businesses are facing a range of challenges and we are taking steps to support them, including streamlining the training process for new HGV drivers and increasing the number of driving tests.

"Progress has already being made in testing and hiring, with improving pay, working conditions and diversity.”